Rail transport in Iceland
Reykjavík Harbour Railway
The track network
Probably the most well-known Icelandic rail project, the Reykjavík Harbour Railway, of 900 mm (2 ft 11 7⁄16 in) narrow gauge, operated from 1913 until 1928 for the construction of the harbour breakwaters. The railway operated from a quarry outside the city, at the site recognised by tourists today as the Perlan hot water storage plant and revolving restaurant, from which it ran a short distance to a junction, passing loop, and sidings. This junction was located just south of a large field which became (and remains) the Reykjavík city airport. From here one line ran to the west, around the western edge of the city, before proceeding along the newly constructed western harbour pier to the island of Effersey. Here a headshunt allowed trains to reverse along a further line, built out onto the outer harbour wall, and extended as that wall itself grew longer. From the first junction a second line ran east around farms to a locomotive depot just outside the city and on to a further junction where a short branch line led into a secondary quarrying site (now in the heart of the capital's residential district) whilst the main line continued to a further junction on the edge of the docks. From here one line ran along the quayside (where one of the locomotives is today preserved on display) whilst the other ran out along the eastern harbour wall.
The railway was operated by two steam locomotives built by the Jung engine company of Germany, both of which have been preserved. Built in the 1890s in Germany, they worked briefly in Denmark before being imported to Iceland in 1913 for the harbour railway project. Locomotive Pioner is now a static exhibit at the Icelandic Folk Museum at Arbær, Árbær Museum, whilst locomotive Minør, after many years of storage in a Nissen hut under piles of rubbish, is now an open-air static exhibit in Reykjavík. A scale model of part of this railway, showing one of the locomotives at work, is displayed in the Reykjavík Maritime Museum. Minør was the first to be withdrawn, whilst Pioner (which had received a replacement boiler in 1910 to extend its life) continued to operate until the railway closed in 1928.
The rolling stock
The mainstay vehicle of this railway was the four-wheeled open wagon. A large number of these wagons operated, and they were built with fully opening sides for loading and unloading. It is not thought that any of these vehicles has survived.
Iceland's first railway accident was on the Reykjavik Harbour Railway. Records at the Árbær Museum show that both locomotives of the Reykjavík Harbour Railway were involved in accidents between the two world wars. Pioner was deliberately derailed by vandals who placed a chain across the track and weighted down its two sides with rocks. They later claimed that they were testing the locomotive's performance as it had already survived their previous experiments of placing coins and planks on the track. Minør was involved in a genuine accident when a section of track gave way beneath the engine. This was later found to have been caused by rotten wooden sleepers supporting this section of track.
Kárahnjúkar Light Railway
A diesel-operated light railway built in the early years of the 21st century in connection with the construction of the Kárahnjúkar hydro-electric power project. The railway consists of three trains, travelling around the clock. Those three trains transport people, concrete, and other things to keep the drilling machines busy.[dead link] The train sets consisted of white coloured locomotive and wagons. The trainsets were built by Schoma Lokomotiven of Germany. Its lifespan was limited to the construction period of this project, and it has now closed. Much of the equipment used was leased from Italy and has returned there.
In 2004, the first collision of two trains occurred in Iceland. A people car ferrying workers ran into a cement car in a tunnel, lying under Valþjófstaðarfjall mountain. Three people were reported and treated for their injuries in the rail mishap.[dead link]
Korpúlfsstaðir Farm Railway
Korpúlfsstaðir was one of the first industrial farms in Iceland. Built in 1930 by Icelandic industrialist Thor Jensen, it was located on the outskirts of Reykjavík, on the Þingvellir road. The farm was equipped with a 600 mm (1 ft 11 5⁄8 in) narrow gauge railway network, allowing the transportation of goods and materials around the farm site. The rolling stock consisted chiefly of four-wheel skip wagons. There were no operational locomotives during either documented visit to this railway (in 1984 and 1993), and trains were shunted by hand, by the farm's staff. It is not known whether the railway was originally equipped with locomotives. Korpúlfsstaðir Farm has now closed and the site has been developed as a golf course and an elementary school, incorporating most of the original farm buildings. There is no surviving part of this railway network.
Other proposed railways
In the 1920s a railway from Reykjavík to Selfoss was proposed, but this came to nothing. More recently there have been occasional proposals for a passenger railway from Reykjavík to Keflavík International Airport. Instead, a fast dual carriageway road (road 41) was built here in 2008. In 2008, 12 representatives from all parties in the Althing put forward a proposal to explore the construction of a railway from Reykjavík to Keflavík airport and also a light rail system within the capital area.
- The full track plans are preserved on a 1902 map, altered by hand in 1913. The original is owned by N. P. Kirk, but copies are housed in the Port of Reykjavík offices, and in the Árbær Museum.
- See "The Locomotives in Reykjavík", published Arbæjarsafn 1982, in Icelandic and English, for fuller details of these engines.
- Both incidents are recorded in the library archives of the Árbær folk museum, Reykjavík.
- "Trains and trolls". Landsvirkjun. 10 December 2004.
- "Three slightly injured in rail mishap in Adit 3". Landsvirkjun. 7 October 2004.
- A full report of the 1984 visit may be found about half way through THIS article on Narrow Gauge Heaven.
- "Iceland studies airport link". Railway Gazette International. 1 July 2001.
- "Vilja láta skoða hagkvæmni lestarsamgangna". mbl.is. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
- Iceland's Railways (by Glenn Cartwright) (Dead link, Mai 26., 2013)
- Photographs (by Andrew Grantham)(Dead link, Mai 26., 2013)
- Árbær Museum/Reykjavik City Museum